Opinel is a French maker of knives, very popular in Europe.
Opinel is based in Cognin, in the region of Savoie. Monsieur Joseph Opinel started production in 1890. His basic knife model had a wooden handle and a folding carbon steel blade. The Opinel knife has no spring, requiring the user to pull the blade out: a nail notch is provided on the flat of the blade.
A metal ring allows the user to lock the blade in the open position.
From the beginning, the Opinel knife came in 12 sizes, identified by the numbers 1 to 12, and differing only in blade size.
- not produced any more: it had a 2 cm. blade (less than one inch), and it was meant as a keychain.
- 3,5 cm
- 4 cm
- 5 cm
- 6 cm
- 7 cm
- 8 cm
- 8,5 cm
- 9 cm
- 10 cm blade
- not produced any more: it was felt to be difficult to distinguish from number 12
- 12 cm
For an adult, sizes from 7 to 9 are the most practical for general camping use. Size 10 and 12 have quite a thick handle.
All the Opinel knives from 1909 are stamped with the Opinel maker's mark: a blessing hand (from the device of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, the main city of the valley) pointing toward the ducal crown of Savoie.
Most Opinel knives are not stainless steel; this means that they require some maintenance. On the other hand, the carbon steel holds the edge very well.
Opinel had been making their basic series of knives for close to one century, when they realized that they could diversify. Nowadays, you find a dizzying array of variations on the basic shape: exotic woods used in the handle, stainless steel blades, even a new thinner shape (which reminds me of the Corsican Laguiole knives).
Some of these are quite elegant, and they can be given as presents.
Nonetheless, the basic engineering elegance of the traditional Opinel shape remains -at least in my opinion- unsurpassed.
An Opinel trick
The blade may easily become stuck in the handle. Instead of breaking your thumbnail, grab the knife by the blade pivot and whack the other hand (the "heel" of the knife) it agains something hard: a wall, the floor.
The blade will come out easily.
Opinel knives are (mostly) utility knives, nor fancy knives. They are good, sharp and surprisingly cheap.
And since they are so cheap, they never feel like they are anything else than a tool. No fetish, just function.
Noded from personal experience (Opinel N°8) and thanks to the www.opinel.com site (it is in French)